Thursday, 16 February 2017
Questions on Promised Legislation
There was a report by Daniel McConnell in yesterday's Irish Examiner which stated that Revenue was scouting for locations along the Border to re-establish customs posts. That would suggest the Government is throwing in the towel in respect of a hard Border. Can the Minister deny the report?
The Minister will be familiar with minimum notice provisions in the Employment Act. Does he have any plans to brief colleagues on that?
The Taoiseach made it very clear that he was wholly committed to making sure there would be no hard Border. He said yesterday that he had met with virtually all the leaders of Government across the EU to make a very strong case over the particular significance of this. It would be a huge backward step and he pledged that it would be top of the political agenda. This is not a technical issue, nor a customs issue. It is one he has recognised as being at the top of the political agenda.
The programme for Government makes a commitment to recognise the state of Palestine. Yesterday, decades of international consensus on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were summarily dumped by US President, Donald Trump, and Benjamin Netanyahu. The consequences of this are potentially disastrous for the entire region. When will the Government make good its commitment? When will it formally recognise the state of Palestine?
The Government is disappointed with the reports of a shift in policy from the US, though it is not yet clear what it will mean in practice. The Government's position remains the same. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has been trying to get a Middle East peace process under way with initiatives by both France and Sweden. Recognition could be helpful but it would only be decided in the context of ongoing work in the Middle East peace process. That will determine when recognition should occur but the Government is absolutely committed to a two-state process as a solution to the issues in Palestine.
This week, the intergovernmental panel on climate change held a scoping meeting in Dublin on climate change, agriculture and food security. One of the pieces of legislation we passed in Government was the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 but we still await the national mitigation plan and the national adaptation framework. When will the critically important plan be published? Will the Minister for Transport provide an annual transition statement to the House or the Seanad, as is required?
It is my understanding that the national mitigation plan is at an advanced stage and documents are in place to provide for a consultation. It is an area of immense importance. The actions are set out under the various pillars, namely, transport, agriculture and energy etc. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, is absolutely committed to deliver the plan, which will have huge implications for planning in this State in the coming years.
Hundreds of greyhound breeders and owners are coming to the gates of Leinster House today. They are in a desperate situation because they have been blackguarded and treated badly by the Irish Greyhound Board for the last four years. Several Ministers have ignored this matter and have reappointed their own cronies onto the board. While Rome burns, they are wasting time and tracks are being closed. We have seen the closure of Harold's Cross and we see that Clonmel in County Tipperary is also down for closure, along with two or three other tracks around the country. Ordinary people are supporting the greyhound industry while blackguarding and skullduggery is going on at the top management level with waste and unaccountability. I want to know what the Minister is going to do about it.
Greyhound owners have been coming to me for over four years telling me about incompetence, skullduggery and wastage of taxpayers' money that was going on in the Irish Greyhound Board, IGB. The board member, Mr. Brendan Moore, wrote to the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and warned him about all of this in the past, but nothing has happened. The Minister said there was satisfaction with the way in which the IGB was operating, but now we see the company is bankrupt and has to sell assets. On behalf of all the genuine greyhound owners and people who go to tracks, this is a disgrace. What will the Minister and the Government do about it?
The greyhound breeders are at the gates of Leinster House today because there is a crisis. This House voted to give €16 million to the Greyhound Breeders Association a couple of weeks ago. We were the only party that voted against that because we saw this crisis coming. This is a crisis that has been ongoing for a long time and we need to ensure that something is done immediately to address it. The greyhound Bill is supposed to be coming before the House. When is it due and will it deal with the matter? We cannot continue with this situation.
I understand that the heads of that Bill are expected shortly. They will go for pre-legislative scrutiny to the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There will therefore be plenty of opportunity for Deputies to ventilate their concerns-----
The health (transport support) Bill, which aims to give financial assistance to people with a disability who are also on a low income, to help them access transport, is currently being categorised as work under way. Can the Minister inform me when this Bill will come before the House?
The Minister said earlier that his strategy is set out in the programme for Government and that that is his goal. I will not reiterate what Deputy Murphy O'Mahony has said, but clearly there is an opportunity in that legislation to expand and reintroduce an enhanced motorised transport grant for people with disabilities. That grant was to have been reintroduced some time ago. In that regard, could we expect to have a full review of the primary medical certificate to ensure that there is equity for many of those who hitherto have failed to be treated fairly and who need same?
When the Minister is undertaking the review can he also examine congenital conditions? In considering the primary medical certificate we should look at those born with a specific condition. For example, if a person is born as an albino and is visually impaired, we could include that condition. It is the same as dwarfism. Currently, the primary medical certificate is limited to five different categories: loss of a limb or half a limb, loss of a leg or half a leg, or dwarfism. An extra category of people with congenital conditions should be added in order to include them.
This is an important and challenging area. I recall that the former Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, was dealing with this matter. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath is currently drafting legislation in this area. The heads of the Bill are at an advanced stage, so hopefully it will come to Cabinet in the near future. However, it has been difficult to get the balance right in this area and to ensure that the legislation is legally robust, as well as being fair to all concerned. Hard work has gone into trying to produce a robust system.
Earlier this week, the Minister published the DEIS plan.
This plan does not even restore the funding for DEIS schools to 2015 levels. There is actually €13 million less in funding, no plan to restore the rural co-ordinator and no plan to increase the number of NEPS psychologists. There are only ten additional NEPS psychologists which is inadequate for DEIS schools which are faced with a range of complex problems in disadvantaged communities. The figure the Minister provided from the Department that there were 500 schools without NEPS psychologists is not correct. I received a phone call from NEPS this very week and note to the Minister that there are actually 600 schools without NEPS psychologists. I ask the Minister to update the Dáil record to ensure he is not misleading the public or schools. I also ask the Minister to consider reinstating the funding to 2015 levels, reinstating the rural co-ordinator and ensuring that all schools across the State have adequate access to NEPS psychologists.
The review of DEIS took place this week. The programme for Government sets out the objectives of the DEIS programme. Tipperary town in my constituency had five schools applying for DEIS status which felt they should have qualified. Tipperary town ticks all of the boxes according to the DEIS criteria. We have been told there is no appeal process for schools to appeal the decision of the Minister. We would like it explained clearly to us why schools in a town like Tipperary, which is clearly disadvantaged, failed to qualify for DEIS status.
I was dismayed when I saw the list on Monday that not one school in either Dáil constituency in County Kildare had the opportunity to gain rural or urban DEIS status. One of the urban schools is the newest and biggest school in Newbridge where the children come from very socially disadvantaged backgrounds. In terms of rural areas, there are three at this point in time. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, we have many small rural schools in south Kildare. Whatever criteria were used, one school in Coill Dubh is very close to a school in Derrinturn-----
Only one extra DEIS school was announced in Kerry, which was Lyreacrompane national school, which I welcome. However, there are numerous schools in the county which should meet the criteria. Those schools need to be given the confidence that their matters will be addressed. This is urgent. On a related matter, we need to see as a matter of urgency the restoration of pre-crisis threshold levels for small schools.
My objective is to ensure that every child who comes to our schools from a background of social disadvantage or with a special need can fulfil his or her potential. I have reviewed both the DEIS scheme and the resource teaching allocation scheme and I am investing €70 million extra in those programmes in the coming year. This is the first time in eight years that any new school has been introduced to this scheme. We have 80 new schools coming in. I admit that it is two per constituency and that many Deputies will be able to point to other schools which they would like to see included. I assure Deputies, however, that this has been done on a fair and objective basis using objective data unlike the previous occasion when it was done very haphazardly. This is fair and objective. Of course, we will refine it over time. Anyone who feels a case has not been fairly assessed can look for a review of the selection. I recognise that what we are doing here is selecting the schools with the greatest needs. These 80 schools are the ones which were identified as having the greatest needs. That is where my resources are going. I assure the House that I am committed to continuing to improve the way we deploy resources to assist the children with the greatest need in our schools.
The programme for Government states that An Garda Síochána must have the modern technology and resources to detect and investigate crimes. On that basis, can the Minister advise the House as to the progress of the implementation of the justice capital plan to date which aims to update policing infrastructure nationally? Can he also update me on the Garda regional headquarters for Sligo-Leitrim which is contained in the capital plan?
I regret I will have to come back to the Deputy on that. There is a substantial technology plan, but I cannot provide the Deputy with a blow-by-blow account of how it is being rolled out. I will get the information for the Deputy.
I refer to the programme for Government and a change of policy in the HSE. It has instructed pharmacies to dispense prescriptions only on a weekly basis, despite the fact that patients have monthly prescriptions. Can the Minister confirm whether pharmacies will issue four separate dispensing fees instead of a monthly fee? Will that involve an extra financial cost?
Does the Minister accept that the change will create multiple layers of bureaucracy and affect patients with mobility issues, such as MS, and elderly patients? Patients will now be forced to collect prescriptions on a weekly, as opposed to a monthly, basis. What is the rationale for the decision? Will the Minister give a commitment to review this matter?
Today, Focus Ireland published a report highlighting the fact that one in three renters is struggling to pay their rent. In December, the House passed the rent pressure zone legislation which currently covers 12 areas. Many struggling renters are not covered by the legislation and are at risk of losing their homes. Will the Government reconsider changing the criteria in the legislation to make it available to all struggling renters? More importantly, will it reconsider its opposition to real rent certainty to deal with the crisis in the rental sector?
As I outlined earlier, the Minister has introduced a framework to provide greater rental certainty and put a cap on increases. He is also rolling out the HAP programme which will only come into effect next month in Dublin. A pilot HAP programme is operating in Dublin, whereby people at risk of homelessness can get access to an uplift on the amount paid to them. Initiatives are in place. The Minister continues to review the operation of all of those initiatives to try to make sure that, where possible, they can be improved. As I mentioned to Deputy Howlin, the focus is on supply which, as everyone recognises, is the long-term solution to the pressure in the rental sector.